South Africans tend to like their cars and with a large country and extensive road network we spend a lot of time in our cars either for holidaying or working. Sitting in a car seat is much like sitting in an office chair. Until the car starts moving!

Then your body is subjected to an array of forces including accelerations, decelerations, lateral sways and constant vibrations. Research tells us that frequent whole body vibrations, such as experienced while driving long distances, doubles a person’s risk of developing low back pain. Even uninterrupted commutes of more than 30 minutes mean an increased risk still exists. There are however a number of strategies to employ to ameliorate your risk.

Even before you begin driving you should try for the most optimal seat/cockpit setup that your vehicle allows. Before getting in the car empty your back pockets to avoid the discomfort from sitting on your wallet or phone. If your car seat has an adjustable lumbar region then employ this to help keep your lower back in a well-supported position and help prevent slouching. Scoot your buttocks as far back in the seat as possible. Move your seat forward so that you can hold the steering wheel at the 3 and 9 o’clock positions with a good amount of elbow bend with your shoulders resting against the backrest. This will guard against over-reaching and help to prevent slouching. Many cars these days also have arm rests which are easier to utilise from this grip position and which help to reduce neck and upper back and shoulder tension. Take this a step further by remembering to grip the steering wheel loosely to further reduce tension. I appreciate that his is a departure from the “old” advice of 2 and 10 o’clock. With the inclusion of steering wheel mounted airbags on most cars these days’ studies have shown that the 3 and 9 o’clock position led to fewer injuries related to air bag deployment. These studies also indicated improved vehicle control using this arrangement. Then move your seat up as high as it will go that you can still maintain a comfortable amount of head clearance. By raising your seat you ensure a good knee bend which also contributes to avoiding the dreaded slouch. Next adjust your seat back angle to between 100° and 110°. Too much seat angle contributes to over-reach and neck and shoulder tension. Adjust your headrest so that it supports your head in your new driving position. Once you have completed your most ideal setup relax into the seat. Do not sit rigidly in the seat or all your good work so far will be undone. Finally set your rear view mirrors for optimum visibility. This way if during your drive you begin to slouch you will obscure some of your rear vision and this will remind you to re-adjust yourself in the seat.

Once you are on the road, when it is safe to do so, use your cruise control if available. This will allow you to put both feet flat on the floor and improve support to your seated posture. Try to plan ahead for your journey by incorporating stops to get out of the car and walk around to loosen muscles and joints.

Finally, research suggests that driving an automatic has benefits over manuals with regard to back pain most likely due to the increased load and reduced support caused by having to frequently manipulate the clutch and accelerator. Similarly people that drove SUV’s or people carriers with a more upright sitting position fared better than those that drove sedans. Perhaps something to consider when making your next car purchase.